ACC play will reveal whether or not Notre Dame is legit

Notre Dame opens ACC play at Pittsburgh on Saturday with an 11-2 record and the No. 24 ranking in the AP poll. But coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, are the Irish overhyped?

Heading to the Steel City, Notre Dame’s RPI ranking stands at No. 57 nationally. It’s a low RPI among ACC schools, ranking 11th among the league’s 15 members — ahead of only Syracuse, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Miami.

Of Notre Dame’s first 11 victories, eight came against non-major conference opponents — Bryant, Seattle, Loyola-Maryland, Chicago State, North Carolina A&T, Fort Wayne, Colgate and Saint Peter’s.

The Irish were dominant in those eight games, winning by an average margin of 28.25 points. Only Saint Peter’s managed to come within 15 points of the Irish, dropping a 63-55 decision in South Bend on Dec. 28.

Against major conference opposition, though, the Irish are 3-2. They defeated a pair of Big Ten opponents in Iowa and Northwestern, along with a Pac-12 foe in Colorado.

The Colorado and Northwestern wins are the biggest notches on Notre Dame’s belt. The Buffaloes sit at 10-3, heading into the start of Pac-12 play, while Northwestern got off to a 12-2 start under former Duke guard Chris Collins.

The Irish have a solid core of veteran talent. Bonzie Colson, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Matt Farrell, all juniors and seniors, have been part of many of Notre Dame’s glorious moments the last two seasons. No other ACC school has four players averaging 13 or more points per game.

Notre Dame’s only two losses so far both came on the road — against top-ranked Villanova on Dec. 10 in New Jersey and then No. 15 Purdue on Dec. 17 in Indianapolis. Both were competitive, with the Irish dropping an eight-point decision (74-66) to the Wildcats and a five-point final (86-81) to the Boilermakers.

A setback against the nation’s No. 1 team and defending national champions doesn’t hurt the Irish too much. Neither does a close loss to one of the Big Ten’s top programs.

However, losing both games against the only two ranked teams it’s played so far does hurt Notre Dame’s RPI. It can only improve by more wins against ACC rivals with higher RPI ratings.